One of the great things about Twitter is that you can get into interesting debates with all sorts of people who don’t agree with you. I actually think that is totally fun! One of the conversations I found myself in recently was with someone who was adamant that everyone should give up sugar (the glucose-fructose table sugar kind, and in general any fructose-containing food) in order to achieve good health. Obviously, I disagree.
Being an all-foods-fit kind of gal, I responded (and I’m paraphrasing a bunch of my tweets here), “That’s great if it works for you, but it’s not necessary for most and not sustainable either.”
Not satisfied with my response, this person then offered up as the ultimate evidence of its nefarious nature: the rationing of sugar during World War II and the decline of heart disease and diabetes during this time. But guess what else happened? Meat, butter and gasoline were also rationed. So it could have been the decrease in butter consumption or meat consumption – or the decrease in consumption of all of those foods combined – or the fact that people probably walked more because gas was rationed. We just don’t know enough to be able to say that the decrease in disease was due to decreased intake of one kind of food. (Nylon was also rationed, so pantyhose were also hard to come by. I think it’s obvious that the decrease in disease was due to all that unfettered ladies’ skin!)
The conversation went back and forth for a while, with this person insisting that sugar and fructose are the ultimate dietary evils, the cause of many metabolic diseases (providing one study on fructose and gout which was interesting but certainly not conclusive. I found other evidence that refuted this connection, so seems like the jury is still out on this one) and me in my stance that while I don’t believe sugar is a health food, there can be room for it in an overall healthy eating pattern, and that total restriction probably wouldn’t work for most people in the long term anyway. In the end, I said we’d have to agree to disagree and part ways on the conversation. And then he blocked me. So much for the sharing of ideas!
Certainly there is compelling evidence that sugar is not a “health food.” Other than pure energy in the form of glucose, there is not much nutrition it has to offer otherwise. I’ve read the various cases made against sugar and also carbohydrates, just as I’ve read the evidence against fat and high protein diets. It’s all very interesting and I’m always watching for any new compelling and useful nutrition science, but for now it seems like the only thing everyone can really agree on is that vegetables are good for us. And it’s always useful to remember that too much of anything is probably not great for us (broccoholics beware!).
But you know what? I get it. Dietary changes can be hard to make — even more so when they are related to weight loss, which often seems to be the goal (perhaps with the hope that weight loss will cure other problems). Because of the inherent nature of intentional weight loss (i.e., it doesn’t work in the long term) we sometimes look for more motivation to make those changes stick. That’s when we start demonizing foods, to convince ourselves that some foods or food groups are so toxic to our very beings that we must never eat them again. How else would you get through someone’s birthday party where some wonderful German chocolate cake was being served? How would you make it through the holiday party season, where every combination of carb/fat/protein is being passed in front of your face, and you there, with your deprived, hungry belly?
I dabbled in this demonization for a while myself. Sugar. Fat. Then meat. Then conventionally farmed produce. I convinced myself with increasing fervor over the years that each ousted food or food group was anathema to my good health. I convinced myself that I felt better with each of these restrictions, but the truth is, I didn’t. I don’t have severe food allergies that require restriction, and cutting those foods out only made me crave them more, and overeat on them furtively when no one was looking (not to mention the cost and inconvenience alone of trying to eat only organic and local).
Don’t get me wrong – there are foods I avoid because they really don’t make me feel good. Milk is one of them. I used to love very spicy foods – not so much now. It’s easy for me to avoid these foods because I don’t want to deal with the repercussions after eating them. Does that mean I should insist that everyone else avoid these foods because it will eradicate all their bodily ills? Of course not. I don’t even insist that everyone should become an intuitive eater or follower of HAES (but it is here for you if you like!).
If you have found the diet that works for you – and I mean really works, as in, you can do this and it hasn’t take over your life and made you miserable – great! If you have to cultivate an aura of intense food fear for yourself and everyone else around you in order to maintain this diet? You may have just joined the diet cult of The True Food Believers.
Check it out: Dietitians Unplugged Podcast!